Birds of Reston: Yellow-shafted northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) at bird feeder in Reston Virginia

The northern flicker doesn’t have “woodpecker” in its name, but it is one. And what a distinctive one! Although the black-and-white stripes on its tail are reminiscent of other woodpeckers’ black-and-white checks, it’s polka-dotted breast is what makes it stand out among birds. Quite fashion-forward.

Unlike most woodpeckers, they don’t peck much wood (though they will if they have to). They prefer digging for insects on the ground.

I saw the individual above at the neighborhood’s most popular bird feeder, just on the edge of the woods. The black handlebars next to its beak indicate that it’s a male; other than that, females are similarly colored. They’re about the size of a robin.

There are two main subspecies of northern flicker: the yellow-shafted and the red-shafted. The underside of the yellow-shafted northern flicker’s wings are bright yellow, and it’s found more often in the east. The red-shafted has red underwings and the males have a red mustache instead of a black one. Red-shafted northern flickers are found more often west of the Rockies, though there is some overlap in their range.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) at bird feeder in Reston Virginia
Part of my ongoing series of blinking-bird portraits.

These birds are loud! On my way back from this feeder, when it was almost sunset, I heard a “Pew! Pew!” sound like an old Star Wars-movie laser shooter. I followed the sound for about a hundred yards and found a flicker, which immediately flew away.

But at least it had led me to another pileated woodpecker.

pileated woodpecker on tree trunk in reston virginia

>> Read more of my posts about woodpeckers

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